Stewart Park is a municipal park operated by the city of Ithaca, New York on the southern end of Cayuga Lake, the largest of New York's Finger Lakes.
The park offers space and facilities for outdoor recreation such as frisbee, tennis, baseball, softball, and fishing. The park has a carousel that operates throughout the summer. In addition, there is a playground with slides and a fountain, along with sheltered areas for picnics and large gatherings. The park is also equipped with grills dispersed around the grounds for barbecuing.
Fall Creek empties into Cayuga Lake through Stewart Park. Stewart Park is also the location of the Cascadilla Boat Club's boathouse. The Fuertes Bird Sanctuary sits at the southern end of the park, and it is bordered on the west by the City of Ithaca's municipal golf course.
Stewart Park was originally part of Military Lot 88, a 600-acre (2.4 km2) tract of land granted to Andrew Moody after the end of the Revolutionary War. Moody sold the land to James Renwick on December 12, 1790. It remained in his family for 104 years as an undeveloped parcel of land.
In the early 1890s, 40 acres (0.16 km2) of Renwick land was purchased by the Cascadilla School to build athletic facilities. At the same time, a trolley line leading to Cayuga Lake was constructed by the Cayuga Lake Electric Railway Company, who also set about developing an amusement park near the lake. The group of properties became known as Renwick Park, and opened to the public in 1894.
Upon opening, the park contained a zoo, a merry-go-round and a renovated dance pavilion for use as Ithaca's first vaudeville theater. However, in 1908, a decrease in the public's use of the railway system led to the dissolution of the Cayuga Lake Electric Railway Company; the company was replaced by the Renwick Park and Traffic Association. Trolley access to the park was completely discontinued in 1915. While this occurred, 55 acres (0.22 km2) adjacent to the park were set aside as a bird sanctuary, maintained by the Cayuga Bird Club. Now known as the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary, it was named after a former club president upon his death in 1927.
The park officially closed in 1915, after which the land was leased to The Whartons film studio during Ithaca's brief heyday as a silent film production center from 1915 to 1919.
In 1920, Mayor Edwin C. Stewart declared during his inauguration speech that it was a "travesty" that Ithaca residents couldn't enjoy the lake without trespassing on private property. In 1921, the City of Ithaca purchased the former Renwick Park land and opened it to the public. Mayor Stewart died before the official opening of the park on July 4, and it was renamed in his honor.
In 1934, the park's land was raised by several feet to reduce flooding.
Although swimming had previously been allowed at the park, since 1964 a prohibition against swimming has been strongly enforced. The ban came about after a boy drowned when turbid, sediment-laden water prevented lifeguards from seeing him. Conditions particular to the lake, including the quantity of sediment at the lake's bottom and the prevailing currents at the lake's southern end, cause such murky and turbid conditions to be common, necessitating the ban on swimming.
A section of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail was completed in 2010, linking the Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing to the Visitors Center. This portion of the trail winds through Stewart Park and the Fuertes Bird Sanctuary.
In 2011, the Friends of Stewart Park began a wide-ranging rehabilitation and restoration project for Stewart Park. This effort began with the renovation of the Mayor Stewart Memorial Flagpole garden, and future efforts are underway.